First published in 1854, Henry David Thoreau"s groundbreaking "Walden" has influenced generations of readers and continues to inspire and inform anyone with an open mind and a love of nature. There is so much wisdom in Walden, it's impossible to digest it all even in a dozen readings. Pithy lines and quotes by Henry David Thoreau tend to the return to the reader over and over again, as life rolls along. A favorite quote from Thoreau states that he would be happy to live in a pine box, three feet by six feet, as long as he could wake up every morning in the middle of nature. When it came to simplicity and sustainability, Henry David Thoreau was years ahead of his time. Walden, along with the journals of Henry David Thoreau, constitute some of the most useful of and timeless of all American literature.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) (properly pronounced Thaw-roe) was an American author, poet, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian, philosopher, and leading transcendentalist. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state. Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry total over 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern day environmentalism. His literary style interweaves close natural observation, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings, and historical lore; while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity, and "Yankee" love of practical detail. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs. He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau's philosophy of civil disobedience influenced the political thoughts and actions of such later figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Thoreau is sometimes cited as an individualist anarchist. Though Civil Disobedience seems to call for improving rather than abolishing government - "I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government" - the direction of this improvement points toward anarchism: "'That government is best which governs not at all;' and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have." Richard Drinnon partly blames Thoreau for the ambiguity, noting that Thoreau's "sly satire, his liking for wide margins for his writing, and his fondness for paradox provided ammunition for widely divergent interpretations of 'Civil Disobedience.'" He further points out that although Thoreau writes that he only wants "at once" a better government, that does not rule out the possibility that a little later he might favor no government.